Robertson sues over Dunblane killer allegations
By Dan McDougall
LORD Robertson has started a landmark legal action against a Scottish newspaper over internet allegations falsely accusing him of helping Thomas Hamilton, the Dunblane killer, obtain his gun licence.
The secretary general of NATO has lodged a writ with the Court of Session in Edinburgh demanding £200,000 compensation over the claims, plus the full costs of the action.
The writ claims that comments posted on the message board of the Sunday Herald newspaper’s website, accusing him of signing a firearms certificate recommendation for Hamilton and using his influence to force the police to ignore their suspicions about the killer, were "false and calumnious".
Lord Robertson, the former defence secretary, also claims the allegations could hinder his chances of finding another job when he stands down as the head of NATO later this year.
The comments made on the website on 9 February were prompted by an on-line discussion forum for readers relating to public concern that certain documents relating to the Dunblane massacre of March 1996 were to remain classified for 100 years.
Under the headline: "Should the Dunblane dossier be kept secret?", the newspaper website invited readers to comment on speculation that prominent Scots were closely linked to Hamilton, asking: "Is the secrecy a smokescreen?"
An allegation was posted on the board by a reader incorrectly claiming that the then Mr Robertson had signed a firearms certificate recommendation because he was Thomas Hamilton’s MP.
Mr Robertson actually represented Hamilton South, was never Thomas Hamilton’s MP and never signed such a document.
The writ says that a second message posted by a different reader said: "As for that Robertson bloke! Never did trust him. How did he get that job as head of NATO?" Another contributor claimed: "People are being protected here."
In his writ, Lord Robertson claims that due to a lack of website policing, the offending comments remained on the newspaper’s internet message board for more than three weeks and were read by an estimated 600,000 people before they were removed.
It is not known if the identity of the individuals who made the statements will be made public but they are alleged to be registered users of the Sunday Herald message board. The newspaper refused to comment.
Lord Robertson’s representative, Martin Smith, a leading libel lawyer, was unavailable for comment. Lord Robertson’s spokesman at NATO said: "It is a private matter."
In 1996, Mr Robertson told Lord Cullen’s public inquiry into the Dunblane massacre that he became concerned about Hamilton’s militaristic camps after his own son attended Dunblane Rovers, a boys’ club run by Hamilton, in 1983. He spoke of his fears to Michael Forsyth, the MP for Stirling (where Hamilton lived) and the Scottish secretary at the time of the massacre.
Mr Robertson kept him informed about Hamilton’s clubs, sending documents highlighting parents’ concerns. These documents are banned from public view under Lord Cullen’s 100-year rule.
There has yet to be a test case in Scotland of whether a company is responsible for information posted on internet message boards. Gordon Deane, a partner in commercial litigation with Shepherd & Wedderburn, said: "The nature of the internet means documents published and uploaded in one country can be viewed and downloaded all over the world, exposing publishers to the libel laws of potentially any nation which provides internet access."
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It is unfortunate that the case did not go ahead as it would have shown this odious individual in his true light as he bullied and blustered, a man of little abilitywho rose without trace from nowhere to invisibility! It was widely believed he was booted out by Blair, Brown & Mandelson as 'the weakest link' and Langley put up with him because they could control him based upon their knowledge of him!
To have proceded with a prosecution would have been both morally wrong and a farcical miscarriage as Lord Cullen had unlawfully 'stashed' away 26 shelf feet of evidence - no fair trial could have pertained but then again it does seem beyond doubt that Justice and morality are little understood in Scotland!